The Gluten-Free Gourmet’s Guide to Portugal

By James Cave / Published: January 2022 / Last updated: January 2022
Posted in: Food & Drink

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Being gluten free is never easy, but the good news is that being gluten free in Portugal is very doable —  and it’s probably much easier than being vegetarian or vegan. However, if you’re vegetarian or vegan and gluten free, finding suitable traditional Portuguese food options is going to be a little more challenging. Good luck! 

Thankfully, those that are solely gluten free don’t need to face traditional Portuguese restaurants with the same fear that a vegan or vegetarian might. Skip the couvert, definitely, which is typically a basket of bread and an assortment of butters, sardine pastes, and options like ham or cheese. This often gets put out on the table while you’re reading the menu, but you can say no and send it back. Alternatively, you could just pick the bits you want such as the olives (azeitonas), and, if it includes them, marinated carrots (cenouras à algarvia), ham, and cheese. Just let the waiter know the situation and he or she will let you know what’s available. 

Most main dishes in Portugal are gluten-free as rice and potatoes are more commonly used, but it’s always a good idea to check just in case anything has been added to the recipe. Note: if you’re avoiding gluten simply to avoid carbs, ask if they’ll substitute the rice, potatoes, beans, and sometimes all three, for a salada mista (simple salad) instead. 

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Examples of very typical Portuguese dishes that you could order include:

  • Grilled fish (normally served with boiled potatoes and vegetables)
  • Grilled sardines
  • Many bacalhau dishes (the country’s national dish)
  • Piri-piri chicken (normally served with rice or french fries)
  • Arroz de marisco (a rice-based seafood stew)
  • Leitão da Bairrada (as long as it’s not a sande de leitão, which is a sandwich)
  • Polvo a lagareiro (octopus and potatoes baked in the oven)
  • Cataplana (varied depending on the recipe, but normally a fish or seafood stew cooked in a clam-shaped pot)
  • Porco preto (black pork, normally served with rice, french fries, beans, or all three)
  • Arroz de pato (duck rice)

A few main dishes that you should avoid include:

  • Migas – A type of Portuguese dumpling that’s typical in the Alentejo region 
  • Ensopado de borrego – A lamb stew that often has pieces of dried bread in the dish
  • Bacalhau com broa – Salt-dried cod with broa, a type of bread similar to Irish soda bread
  • Alheira and Farinheira – Two sausages that you’ll come across, particularly Alheira. Unfortunately, Alheira often has bread in the recipe
  • Açorda – An Alentejo soup that uses bread 
  • Francesinha – Porto’s most famous dish is, unfortunately, a sandwich 

Desserts and sweets are a little easier. Unfortunately, the beloved pastel de nata isn’t naturally gluten free, although there are some bakeries that have gluten free options, such as Pastelaria Zarzuela in Lisbon. Typical Portuguese desserts that normally don’t contain gluten include: 

  • Arroz doce (rice pudding)
  • Pudim flan (flan)
  • Leite creme (crème brûlée)
  • Pudim Molotov
  • Maçã asada (baked apple)
  • Baba Camelo
  • Peras bêbedas (pears cooked in red wine)
  • Mousse de Chocolate (chocolate mousse)
  • Pudim Abade de Priscos

As always, it’s a good idea to check as recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant. Most waiters will speak English, particularly in places like Lisbon and the Algarve. 

Snacks are much harder. In a traditional pastelaria, most of the traditional cakes or savoury snacks will contain wheat. However, there are a couple of traditional options that are naturally gluten free, such as the Ouriço, a traditional cake from Ericeira. 

Self-catering is always much easier, regardless of the dietary requirement. Portuguese supermarkets and markets normally have a fantastic selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, and fish. Increasingly, they also have a few gluten-free items as well. Pingo Doce, one of the main supermarkets, has a useful catalogue of all of its gluten free products as does Auchan, although Auchan’s gluten-free catalogue is mainly bakery focused. These days, most supermarkets, especially larger supermarkets, will have a health food aisle where many of the products will be gluten free. There are also some specialist health food supermarkets, such as Celeiro, although these are mainly only available in cosmopolitan parts of the country.

Never assume something is gluten-free because it is elsewhere. One surprise that Jodi from Legal Nomads spotted is the Paladin mustard common in Portugal, although this mustard is normally used for bifana and prego sandwiches, which obviously contain wheat anyway. Just in case, be sure to read the back of the packets. Some helpful words to know are farinha (flour), pão (bread), trigo (wheat) and glúten (gluten). Sem glúten means gluten free. 

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